Food trends come and go, each wave depositing fresh knowledge and innovation. Right now our food-scape is booming with low-carb, gluten-free and Paleo revelations; we have new ingredients to play with and new ways to play with old ingredients. Take nuts: Once demonized for a high fat and calorie content, they’re currently valued for their “good fat” (monounsaturated) that studies have shown reduce cholesterol. Nuts are full of heart-healthy antioxidants, vitamins E and B2, fiber and minerals, and have an oh-so-desirable low glycemic index. Whether eaten whole, used as flour, in cooking oil or as a sauce base, nuts are in. We’ve rounded up eight nutty delights in our area; indulge, in good health!
STRAWBERRY FETA SALAD
Salads are a nut’s best friend: Visit the menu at Green Mill, and you’ll notice that the majority of the salads on the menu contain a nut or two. The strawberry feta salad is a lively spring mix tossed with spinach, strawberries, feta cheese, red and green onions, grilled onions and pecans with a balsamic vinaigrette. Or try the pecan Craisin salad, featuring the southern nut with dried cranberries, greens and tangy gorgonzola. Two Asia-inflected salads, the chicken stir-fry and the Thai chicken, are full of cashews and peanuts respectively; peapods and red bell peppers beautify the lot. $10.99 each, $9.99 for pecan Craisin salad.
ALMOND RASPBERRY WEDDING CAKE
Gateaux Inc.’s raspberry almond cake is a gracious nod to our large Scandinavian population, and it is an old recipe. Traditionally Norwegian, the cake uses almond meal as flour; whipped egg whites add airy lightness to the dense nut mixture. The three layers are filled with whipped cream and a sweet, ruby-red raspberry filling: a lovely thing to behold, as well as to eat. The smallest wedding cake is three tiers, serving 90–150 guests. $1,250–$1,550.
Biryani is an Indian rice dish, akin to a pilaf—each region of India has a distinctive version. Nuts are key players for both texture and nutrition, and the aromatic vegetable biryani at India Palace is full of cashews. Fragrant jasmine rice and a jumble of fresh veggies make up the bulk of the dish, which is gussied up with spices including ginger, clover, coriander, nutmeg and saffron. A good dose of ghee, a.k.a. clarified butter, echoes the nuttiness of the cashews, while raisins add a bit of sweetness. $13.
Jake’s City Grille
This nut is a native staple: The name “pecan” comes from the Algonquian word meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack.” Mellow and somehow oaky, pecans can withstand high heat and are thus excellent for cooking and baking. Jake’s walleye smartly dodges the straight-up beer batter treatment in favor of finely crushed pecans mixed with breadcrumbs and herbs. The result is a crispy, moisture-sealing case that coddles the delicate fish like a lullaby—all it needs is a spritz from the accompanying lemon wedge. $21.95.
The Original Pancake House
Hey, guess what? After the great movie-popcorn coconut oil scare of 2010, coconut turns out to be good for you. And now coconut is everywhere: as coconut water, coconut cooking oil and, in some corners of the planet, as coconut biofuel. At OPH you can redeem the health value of your pancake breakfast with a delicious coconut waffle: It’s filled and topped with toasted coconut, accompanied by a tropical-flavored syrup (more coconut!). You get both healthy fat and trendy food knowledge points—plus it is very, very good. $9.17.
RAMA SPINACH CURRY
Nuts are nutrient-dense, handy extenders for high-bulk, low-cost foods. Thai cuisine exercises this principle to delicious effect with peanut sauce, and Thai Table executes this staple with a brilliant rama spinach curry, a simple pile of steamed greens and bean sprouts cloaked in a sweet, thick sauce made from roasted goobers. If you’re adding protein, tofu works well here. $8.99, protein extra.
Whole Foods Market
There are two types of people in the world: those who eat almond butter straight from the jar and those who don’t. We count ourselves in the former category, and nothing’s better than the freshly ground variety, still warm from the grinder. It’s worth a trip to Whole Foods to get a tub of this manna from heaven; while you’re there, grind up some classic peanut butter or roam the bulk aisle for any ol’ nut your heart desires, such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and various combinations thereof. Buying nuts in bulk is a great plan for cost effectiveness and quality assurance: The natural oils in nuts are delicate and can go rancid when stored for too long. Prices vary.
Cashews might be our favorite nut—buttery with medium-crunch and some kind of mysterious super-addictive compound. Cashew chicken is an old-school dish at any Chinese restaurant; crunchy, mild cashews mingle perfectly with tender bites of chicken. At Tea House, the lightly sauced dish includes water chestnuts and is appealingly mild. $11.25.